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Lennar Has Begun Removing Defective Chinese Drywall in Florida Homes

Feb 12, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Removal efforts are underway in a Florida neighborhood hard hit by problems with defective Chinese drywall.  According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, builder Lennar Homes has work crews gutting about a half dozen homes in the Montauk Point Crossing area of its Heritage Harbour development in Manatee County.  Lennar had previously acknowledged that around 23 homes in that area may have been built with defective Chinese drywall.

Over the past several months, owners of newer homes in South Florida have been complaining of drywall that smells like rotten eggs. In several cases, they have had to leave their home because the smell was so bad.  In addition to the putrid smell, many South Florida homeowners have reported problems with air conditioning and other systems that are likely related to the defective Chinese drywall.  Some spent hundreds - even thousands of dollars - to have air conditioning, pipes and wiring repaired.

Usually, drywall is manufactured in the United States, but a shortage between 2004 and 2006 prompted many builders to buy drywall from China.  Most of the reported problems stem from drywall imported from China during Florida’s construction boom years of 2004-2005.  Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. Ltd. of China, a  subsidiary of German-based manufacturer Knauf Group, is the company at the focus of Florida’s drywall problems.  Another Chinese drywall maker, Taishan Gypsum, has also been implicated.

Lennar recently released its own test results of the Chinese drywall.  Those tests, conducted last year by Environ International, found three sulfide gases - carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide and dimethyl sulfide.  Hydrogen sulfide, a particularly dangerous compound with a characteristic rotten-eggs smell, was not found in Environ’s air tests, but it was found in previous testing that the company conducted on the Chinese drywall itself.  The Florida Health Department is also conducting tests, and results are expected next month.

According to the Herald Tribune, Lennar's not saying much about the gutting operations in Montauk Point Crossing. But the report said that county government records show six permits for drywall removal and repairs were filed by Lennar on Jan. 30. One house being worked on had ripped-out drywall and insulation piled up in the garage, the Herald Tribune said.

Last month, Lennar issued a statement saying it had identified 80 of its homes in Southwest Florida that appear to contain the suspect drywall and was investigating 40 more.   The company promised to absorb all costs related to the drywall replacement, including relocation expenses for people living in the houses.

The drywall problems have also sparked several lawsuits.  Late last month,  the Bonita Springs law firm of Parker Waichman LLP filed a class action lawsuit against Knauf Plasterboard, Taishan and others.  The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District court in Fort Myers, charges that the defendants negligently manufactured and sold the defective drywall, which was “unreasonably dangerous” in normal use because it caused corrosion to air-conditioning and electrical components, and caused coughing and irritation of sinuses, eyes and throats. It goes on to state that, “when combined with moisture in the air, these sulfur compounds create sulfuric acid.”

Lennar Homes has also sued Knauf and Taishan because of the drywall issue.  The Lennar lawsuit also charges 12 installers with breach of contract and breach of express and implied warranty. Lennar claimed that independent subcontractors installed the defective Chinese drywall in some homes, and it was  unaware it was being used.

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